Epatante was the warm order for the Betfair Fighting Fifth Hurdle and won in style on Saturday which is bad news for her Champion Hurdle rivals says Kevin Blake...
"It is no secret that the Champion Hurdle division lacks depth, but this performance served notice on any potential contenders that the bar has been raised."
Without a rival with form to anywhere on the level of her own, it seemed unlikely that Epatante would get to advance her credentials to any great extent in the Betfair Fighting Fifth at Newcastle on Saturday. And yet she did just that.
We didn't see anything new from Epatante in terms of the level of form she showed. Indeed, she didn't need to be at her best to see off her rivals with utter disdain. However, it was the maturity she showed on her way to doing it that suggests she is a better mare than she was last season.
For a mare like her that has raced notably freely on more than a few occasions in her career, the likelihood of her being stronger than ideal is always going to be greater when she is fresh on her seasonal reappearance. Thus, when Epatante was hampered by the carnage caused by Not So Sleepy at the first hurdle, it would have been perfectly understandable for her to get fired up and over-race.
But she didn't. Considering the interference she suffered, the lack of pace in the race and the minimal amount of cover she got, it was very encouraging indeed to see Epatante settle as well as she did. What transpired represented a really strong test of her tractability and she showed greatly improved professionalism not to be fired up by it. One can't help but think that if such a series of events had transpired in front of her a year ago, she would have got very fired up indeed.
Bar has been raised for Champion Hurdle division
It wasn't just her tractability that pleased, as her jumping was better than ever. She had shown a low and quick technique in the Christmas Hurdle at Kempton last season, but hadn't been as slick in the Champion Hurdle. What she did on Saturday was much more like it. She jumped like one hopes and expects a Champion Hurdle horse to do.
Having settled and jumped in such pleasing fashion, it wasn't a surprise that she was capable of producing as potent a finishing kick as she did. Despite the steady pace, Epatante was still capable of showing a fine turn of foot on the run-in to make a high-class horse in Sceaux Royal look ordinary.
It is no secret that the Champion Hurdle division lacks depth, but this performance served notice on any potential contenders that the bar has been raised. Epatante may not have advanced her form on Saturday, but she gave every indication that she will be capable of doing so if and when she is required to do so.